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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Edna O’Brien, Novelist, Playwright & Poet

edna-o-brienEdna O’Brien, novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short story writer, is born in Tuamgraney, County Clare on December 15, 1930. Philip Roth describes her as “the most gifted woman now writing in English,” while the former President of Ireland Mary Robinson cites her as “one of the great creative writers of her generation.” Her works often revolve around the inner feelings of women, and their problems in relating to men, and to society as a whole.

O’Brien is the youngest child of “a strict, religious family.” From 1941 to 1946 she is educated by the Sisters of Mercy, a circumstance that contributes to a “suffocating” childhood. “I rebelled against the coercive and stifling religion into which I was born and bred. It was very frightening and all pervasive. I’m glad it has gone.” She is fond of a nun as she deeply misses her mum and tries to identify the nun with her mother.

In 1950, O’Brien is awarded a licence as a pharmacist. In Ireland, she reads such writers as Leo Tolstoy, William Makepeace Thackeray, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 1954, she marries, against her parents’ wishes, the Irish writer Ernest Gébler and the couple moves to London. They have two sons but the marriage is dissolved in 1964. Gébler dies in 1998.

In London, O’Brien purchases Introducing James Joyce, with an introduction written by T. S. Eliot. When she learns that James Joyce‘s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is autobiographical, it makes her realise where she might turn, should she decide to write herself. In London she starts work as a reader for Hutchinson, where on the basis of her reports she is commissioned, for £50, to write a novel. Her first novel, The Country Girls (1960), is often credited with breaking silence on sexual matters and social issues during a repressive period in Ireland following World War II.

This novel is the first part of a trilogy of novels which includes The Lonely Girl (1962) and Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964). Shortly after their publication, these books are banned and, in some cases burned, in her native country due to their frank portrayals of the sex lives of their characters. Her novel A Pagan Place (1970) is about her repressive childhood. Her parents are vehemently against all things related to literature and her mother strongly disapproves of her daughter’s career as a writer.

O’Brien is a panel member for the first edition of the BBC‘s Question Time in 1979. In 2017, she becomes the sole surviving member.

In 1980, she writes a play, Virginia, about Virginia Woolf, and it is staged originally in June 1980 at the Stratford Festival, Ontario, Canada and subsequently in the West End of London at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with Maggie Smith and directed by Robin Phillips. It is staged at The Public Theater in New York City in 1985.

Other works include a biography of James Joyce, published in 1999, and one of the poet Lord Byron, Byron in Love (2009). House of Splendid Isolation (1994), her novel about a terrorist who goes on the run, marks a new phase in her writing career. Down by the River (1996) concerns an under-age rape victim who seeks an abortion in England, the “Miss X case.” In the Forest (2002) deals with the real-life case of Brendan O’Donnell, who abducts and murders a woman, her three-year-old son, and a priest, in rural Ireland.

O’Brien now lives in London. She receives the Irish PEN Award in 2001. Saints and Sinners wins the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the world’s richest prize for a short story collection. Faber and Faber publishes her memoir, Country Girl, in 2012. In 2015, she is bestowed Saoi by the Aosdána.

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The Execution of Rory O’Connor

rory-o-connorRory O’Connor, Irish republican revolutionary, is executed by firing squad on December 8, 1922 in reprisal for the anti-treaty Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) killing of Irish Free State member of parliament Sean Hales.

O’Connor is born in Kildare Street, Dublin on November 28, 1883. He is educated at St. Mary’s College, Dublin and then in Clongowes Wood College, a public school run by the Jesuit order and also attended by James Joyce, and his close friend Kevin O’Higgins, the man who later condemns him to death.

In 1910 O’Connor takes his Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Arts degrees in University College Dublin, then known as the National University. He goes to work as a railway engineer in Ireland, then moves to Canada, where he is an engineer in the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian Northern Railway, being responsible for the construction of 1,500 miles of railroad.

After his return to Ireland, O’Connor becomes involved in Irish nationalist politics, joins the Ancient Order of Hibernians and is interned after the Easter Rising in 1916.

During the subsequent Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) O’Connor is made Director of Engineering of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) – a military organisation descended from the Irish Volunteers.

O’Connor does not accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which establishes the Irish Free State and abolishes the Irish Republic declared in 1916, which he and his comrades had sworn to uphold. On March 26, 1922, the anti-treaty officers of the IRA hold a convention in Dublin in which they reject the Treaty compromise and repudiate the authority of the Dáil, the elected Irish Parliament. Asked by a journalist if this means they are proposing a military dictatorship in Ireland, O’Connor replies, “you can take it that way if you want.”

On April 14, 1922, O’Connor, with 200 other hardline anti-treaty IRA men under his command, takes over the Four Courts building in the centre of Dublin in defiance of the new Irish government. They want to provoke the British troops, who are still in the country, into attacking them, which they believe will restart the war with Britain and re-unite the IRA against their common enemy. Michael Collins tries desperately to persuade O’Connor and his men to leave the building before fighting breaks out.

On June 28, 1922, after the Four Courts garrison has kidnapped JJ “Ginger” O’Connell, a general in the new Free State Army, Collins shells the Four Courts with borrowed British artillery. O’Connor surrenders after two days of fighting and is arrested and held in Mountjoy Prison. This incident sparks the Irish Civil War as fighting breaks out around the country between pro and anti treaty factions.

On December 8, 1922, along with Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey, three other republicans captured with the fall of the Four Courts, Rory O’Connor is executed by firing squad in reprisal for the anti-treaty IRA’s killing of Free State member of parliament Sean Hales. The execution order is given by Kevin O’Higgins, who less than a year earlier had appointed O’Connor to be best man at his wedding, symbolising the bitterness of the division that the Treaty has caused. O’Connor, one of 77 republicans executed by the Cumann na nGaedheal government of the Irish Free State, is seen as a martyr by the Republican movement in Ireland.


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Birth of Luke Kelly, Founding Member of The Dubliners

luke-kellyLuke Kelly, singer, folk musician and actor, is born into a working-class family in Lattimore Cottages at 1 Sheriff Street, Dublin on November 17, 1940. He is noted as a founding member of the band The Dubliners.

After Dublin Corporation demolished Lattimore Cottages in 1942, the Kellys become the first family to move into the St. Laurence O’Toole flats, where Luke spends the bulk of his childhood, although the family is forced to move by a fire in 1953 and settles in the Whitehall area.

Kelly is interested in music during his teenage years and regularly attends cèilidh with his sister Mona and listens to American vocalists including Fats Domino, Al Jolson, Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. He also has an interest in theatre and musicals, being involved with the staging of plays by Dublin’s Marian Arts Society. The first folk club he comes across is in the Bridge Hotel, Newcastle upon Tyne in early 1960. Having already acquired the use of a banjo, he starts memorising songs.

Kelly befriends Sean Mulready in Birmingham and lives in his home for a period. Mulready is a teacher who is forced from his job in Dublin because of his communist beliefs. Mulready’s brother-in-law, Ned Stapleton, teaches Kelly “Rocky Road to Dublin.” During this period he studies literature and politics under the tutelage of Mulready, his wife Mollie, and Marxist classicist George Derwent Thomson.

In 1961 there is a folk music revival or “ballad boom,” as it is later termed, in waiting in Ireland. Kelly returns to Dublin in 1962. A concert John Molloy organises in the Hibernian Hotel leads to his “Ballad Tour of Ireland” with the Ronnie Drew Ballad Group. This tour leads to the Abbey Tavern and the Royal Marine Hotel and then to jam-packed sessions in the Embankment, Tallaght. Ciarán Bourke joins the group, followed later by John Sheahan. They rename themselves The Dubliners at Kelly’s suggestion, as he is reading James Joyce‘s book of short stories, entitled Dubliners, at the time. Kelly is the leading vocalist for the group’s eponymous debut album in 1964, which includes his rendition of “Rocky Road to Dublin.”

In 1964 Kelly leaves the group for nearly two years and is replaced by Bob Lynch and John Sheahan. Kelly goes with Deirdre O’Connell, founder of the Focus Theatre, to whom he marries the following year, back to London and becomes involved in Ewan MacColl‘s “gathering.”

When Bob Lynch leaves The Dubliners, John Sheahan and Kelly rejoin. The ballad boom in Ireland is becoming increasingly commercialised with bar and pub owners building ever larger venues for pay-in performances. Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger on a visit to Dublin express concern to Kelly about his drinking.

The arrival of a new manager for The Dubliners, Derry composer Phil Coulter, results in a collaboration that produces three of Kelly’s most notable performances: “The Town I Loved So Well”, “Hand Me Down My Bible“, and “Scorn Not His Simplicity”, a song about Phil’s son who had Down Syndrome. Kelly remains a politically engaged musician, becoming a supporter of the movement against South African apartheid and performing at benefit concerts for the Irish Travellers community.

Kelly’s health deteriorates in the 1970s. During a concert in the Cork Opera House on June 30, 1980 he collapses on the stage. He had already suffered for some time from migraines and forgetfulness which had been ascribed to his intense schedule, alcohol consumption, and “party lifestyle.” A brain tumor is diagnosed. Although he tours with the Dubliners after enduring an operation, his health deteriorates further. He forgets lyrics, has to take longer breaks in concerts due to weakness and becomes more withdrawn. In the autumn of 1983 he has to leave the stage in Traun, Austria and again in Mannheim, Germany. Shortly after this, he has to cancel the tour of southern Germany and, after a short stay in hospital in Heidelberg, he is flown back to Dublin.

After another operation Kelly spends Christmas with his family but is taken to hospital again in the New Year, where he dies on January 30, 1984. His funeral in Whitehall attracts thousands of mourners from across Ireland. His gravestone in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, bears the inscription: Luke Kelly – Dubliner.


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Birth of Frank Delaney, Novelist, Journalist & Broadcaster

frank-delaneyFrank Delaney, Irish novelist, journalist and broadcaster, is born in County Tipperary on October 24, 1942. He is the author of The New York Times best-seller Ireland, the non-fiction book Simple Courage: A True Story of Peril on the Sea, and many other works of fiction, non-fiction and collections.

Delaney begins working as a newsreader for the Irish state radio and television network RTÉ in 1970. In the early 1970s he becomes a news reporter for the BBC in Dublin, and covers an intense period of violence known as the Troubles. After five years of reporting on the violence, he moves to London to work in arts broadcasting. In 1978 he creates the weekly Bookshelf programme for BBC Radio 4, which covers books, writers and the business of publishing. Over the next five-and-a-half years he interviews over 1,400 authors, including Anthony Burgess, John Updike, Margaret Atwood, Christopher Isherwood and Stephen King.

On television, Delaney writes and presents for Omnibus, the BBC’s weekly arts series. He serves as the Literature Director of the Edinburgh Festival in 1980, and hosts his own talk show Frank Delaney in the early 1980s, which features many cultural and literary personalities. Afterward, he creates and presents Word of Mouth, the BBC’s radio programme about language, as well as a variety of radio and television documentaries including specials on James Joyce, Robert Graves, Ernest Hemingway in Paris, and the Shakespeare industry. He presents The Book Show on the Sky News satellite channel for many years.

Delaney’s first book, James Joyce’s Odyssey (1981), is well received and becomes a best-seller in the UK and Ireland. He writes and presents the six-part documentary series The Celts: Rich Traditions and Ancient Myths (1987) for the BBC, and writes the accompanying book. He subsequently writes five books of non-fiction (including Simple Courage), ten novels (including Ireland, Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show and Tipperary), one novella, and a number of short stories. He also edits many compilations of essays and poetry.

After moving to the United States and settling in Kent, Connecticut in 2002, Delaney writes the screenplay for an adaptation of Goodbye, Mr. Chips (2002), which stars Martin Clunes and is shown on ITV in Britain, and in the Masterpiece Theatre series in the United States. His articles are published by newspapers in United States, the UK and Ireland, including on the Op-ed pages of The New York Times. He is a frequent public speaker, and is a contributor and guest on National Public Radio (NPR) programmes.

On Bloomsday 2010, Delaney launches Re:Joyce, a series of short weekly podcasts that go page-by-page through James Joyce’s Ulysses, discussing its allusions, historical context and references.

Frank Delaney dies in Danbury Hospital in Danbury, Connecticut on February 21, 2017 after suffering a stroke the previous day.


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Birth of James Henry Cousins, Playwright & Actor

james-h-cousinsJames Henry Cousins, Irish writer, playwright, actor, critic, editor, teacher and poet, is born in Belfast on July 22, 1873, a descendant of Huguenot refugees. He uses several pseudonyms including Mac Oisín and the Hindu name Jayaram.

Largely self-educated at night schools, Cousins works some time as a clerk and becomes private secretary and speechwriter to Sir Daniel Dixon, 1st Baronet, the Lord Mayor of Belfast. In 1897 he moves to Dublin where he becomes part of a literary circle which includes William Butler Yeats, George William Russell and James Joyce. It is believed that he serves as a model for the Little Chandler character in Joyce’s short story collection Dubliners.

Cousins is significantly influenced by Russell’s ability to reconcile mysticism with a pragmatic approach to social reforms and by the teachings of Helena Blavatsky. He has a lifelong interest in the paranormal and acts as reporter in several experiments carried out by William Fletcher Barrett, Professor of physics at the University of Dublin and one of the founders of the Society for Psychical Research.

Cousins produces several books of poetry while in Ireland as well as acting in the first production of Cathleen ní Houlihan, under the stage name of H. Sproule, with the famous Irish revolutionary and beauty Maud Gonne in the title role. His plays are produced in the first years of the twentieth century in the Abbey Theatre, the most famous being “the Racing Lug”. After a dispute with W.B. Yeats, who objects to “too much Cousins,” the Irish National Theatre movement splits with two-thirds of the actors and writers siding with Cousins against Yeats.

Cousins also writes widely on the subject of Theosophy and in 1915 travels to India with the voyage fees paid for by Annie Besant, the President of the Theosophical Society. He spends most of the rest of his life in the sub-continent, apart from a year as Professor of English Literature at Keio University in Tokyo and another lecturing in New York. Towards the end of his life he converts to Hinduism. At the core of Cousins’s engagement with Indian culture is a firm belief in the “shared sensibilities between Celtic and Oriental peoples.”

While in India he becomes friendly with many key Indian personalities including poet Rabindranath Tagore, Indian classical dancer Rukmini Devi Arundale, painter Abdur Rahman Chughtai and Mahatma Gandhi. He is the person who brings change into the life of poetry of the great renowned Kannada poet and writer Kuvempu. He writes a joint autobiography with his wife Margaret Elizabeth Cousins, a suffragette and one of the co-founders of the Irish Women’s Franchise League and All India Women’s Conference (AIWC).

In his The Future Poetry Sri Aurobindo acclaims Cousins’ New Ways in English Literature as “literary criticism which is of the first order, at once discerning and suggestive, criticism which forces us both to see and think.” He also acknowledges that he learned to intuit deeper being alerted by Cousins’ criticisms of his poems. In 1920 Cousins comes to Pondicherry to meet the Mother and Sri Aurobindo.

James Cousins dies on February 20, 1956 in Madanapalle, Andhra Pradesh, India at the age of 82.


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Birth of Mary Colum, Literary Critic & Author

mary-columMary Colum (née Maguire), literary critic and author, is born in Collooney, County Sligo on June 14, 1884, the daughter of Charles Maguire and Catherine Gunning. She is the author of several books, including the autobiographical Life and the Dream (1947), and From These Roots: The Ideas that Have Made Modern Literature (1937), a collection of her criticism.

Maguire’s mother dies in 1895, leaving her to be reared by her grandmother, Catherine, in Ballysadare, County Sligo. She attends boarding school in St. Louis’ Convent in Monaghan, County Monaghan.

Educated at Royal University of Ireland Maguire is founder of the Twilight Literary Society which leads her to meet William Butler Yeats. She regularly attends the Abbey Theatre and is a frequent visitor amongst the salons, readings and debates there. After graduation in 1909 she teaches with Louise Gavan Duffy at St. Ita’s, a companion school to Patrick Pearse‘s St. Enda’s School. She is active with Thomas MacDonagh and others in national and cultural causes and co-founds The Irish Review (1911–14) with David Houston, MacDonagh and others. She, along with her husband, Padraic Colum, whom she marries in July 1912, edit the magazine for some months of its four year run. She is encouraged by Yeats to specialise in French literary criticism and to translate Paul Claudel.

Colum and her husband move to New York City in 1914, living occasionally in London and Paris. In middle age she is encouraged to return to writing, and becomes established as a literary generalist in American journals, including Poetry, Scribner’s Magazine, The Nation, The New Republic, The Freeman, The New York Times Book Review, The Saturday Review of Literature, and the New-York Tribune.

Colum associates with James Joyce in Paris and discourages him from duping enquirers about the origins of the interior monologue in the example of Édouard Dujardin. She accepts Joyce’s very ill daughter, Lucia, for a week in their Paris flat at the height of her “hebephrenic” attack, while herself preparing for an operation in May 1932. She serves as the literary editor of The Forum magazine from 1933–1941 and commences teaching comparative literature with Padraic at Columbia University in 1941.

She rebuts Oliver St. John Gogarty‘s intemperate remarks about Joyce in The Saturday Review of Literature in 1941.

Colum’s publications become increasingly sparse in the 1950s as her arthritis and neuralgia grow more and more severe. She dies in New York City on October 22, 1957. At the time of her death, she is working on Our Friend James Joyce with her husband, each writing various chapters. It is assembled posthumously by Padraic Colum and is published by Doubleday on August 22, 1958.

Colum’s letters are held in Scribner’s Archive, Princeton University Library, while a collection of her papers is held at the State University of New York.


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Birth of Sir Philip Crampton, Surgeon & Anatomist

philip-cramptonSir Philip Crampton, 1st Baronet, FRS, an eminent Irish surgeon and anatomist, is born in Dublin on June 7, 1777.

Crampton is the son of a dentist. He is a childhood friend of Theobald Wolfe Tone, the United Irishman, and a cousin, on his mother’s side, of Thomas Verner, Grand Master of the Orange Order. He joins the army when young and becomes an assistant surgeon. When he is appointed surgeon to the Meath Hospital in 1798 he is not yet fully qualified, and goes on to graduate in Glasgow in 1800. A few years later he also becomes assistant surgeon at the Westmoreland Lock Hospital, Dublin and also builds up a large private practice at his house in Dawson St. He joins Peter Harkan in teaching anatomy in private lectures, forming the first private school of anatomy and surgery in the city.

Crampton becomes a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in Ireland for a treatise on the construction of eyes of birds, written in 1813. This is later published, with other writings, in the Dublin Journal of Medical Science.

In 1821, together with Sir Henry Marsh and Dr. Charles Johnston, Crompton founds the Pitt St. Institution, a children’s hospital in Pitt St. (now Balfe St.). This hospital is the first teaching children’s hospital in Ireland or Great Britain. The main objective of the hospital is to treat sick children in one of the poorest parts of Dublin, The Liberties.

Crompton resigns the chief-surgeoncy of the Westmoreland Lock Hospital when he is appointed surgeon-general to the forces in Ireland. He remains as consulting surgeon to Dr. Steevens’ Hospital and the Dublin Lying-In Hospital. He is three times president of the Dublin College of Surgeons and he is knighted in 1839.

Crompton is always interested in zoological science and plays an active part in founding the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland and is many times its president. He is also a member of the Royal Irish Academy.

Sir Philip Crampton dies at his residence, 14 Merrion Square, in Dublin on June 10, 1858.

The Crampton Memorial, at the junction of College St. with Pearse St. and D’Olier St., is erected from the design of sculptor John Kirk in 1862. It is of a curious design, consisting of a bust above a fountain and surmounted by a cascade of metal foliage. As it is slowly falling apart, it is removed in 1959. James Joyce references the monument in his novel Ulysses when Leopold Bloom passes the monument and thinks, “Sir Philip Crampton’s memorial fountain bust. Who was he?”